by Semih Tuna / firstname.lastname@example.org
Dusan Alimpijevic taking over the reins of Besiktas Emlakjet follows the successful spell at Frutti Extra Bursaspor. The three-year run included the EuroCup Coach of the Year award in 2022, on the heels of reaching the championship game of 7DAYS EuroCup with the Bursa outfit.
Alimpijevic, 37, opened up to Eurohoops in a lengthy interview ahead of the 2023-24 season. Plenty of topics ranging from the circumstances in leaving Bursaspor and the selections for the 2023-24 squad of Besiktas Emlakjet to national teams and more.
The team based in Istanbul is set to participate in the BKT EuroCup and Turkiye Sigorta Basketbol Super Ligi.
“They skipped to say what happened there”
Q: First of all, we have to start with your previous experience. You left Bursaspor but in one of your interviews, you mentioned that it wasn’t told correctly. Can you explain this story from your side?
C: This is in the past right now. We are not talking too much about the past, we are talking about today and the future. I don’t want to make any comments about these previous things. The only comment that I have is they skipped to say what happened there. I was told by the club via my agent to help them get out of my contract. Derek Needham has the same situation too because we had a guaranteed contract then. They wanted to move on with something else.
At that time, I had some interviews with other clubs, and even with EuroLeague clubs, I had negotiations. To be honest, Besiktas was so concrete about their offer. The team’s GM and some people from the club came to Belgrade to meet with me. They showed the highest level of professionalism. I thought that this was the best option for me. The only thing I can say about the past is that I was a little bit disappointed that no one said anything about what happened. I’m not a person who wants to explain everything. I will let the time say it for myself. Truths will come out and everybody will know what happened there.
“I wanted to change the mindset from the beginning”
Q: Now, Besiktas has a completely different roster. Apart from domestic players, three of your foreign players played in Turkey last year. Does knowing what they are capable of make the difference in deciding to get them? What do you think?
A: Besiktas fought to stay in the league almost until the last round. You can say that there weren’t so many positive thoughts. Even though they were big investments and ideas, something went wrong. This is more question for people before me. What I wanted, what I talked about with my GM was ‘clear everything and start from zero’: Start with a new story, start with new guys, start with a new philosophy, start with a new organization, start with a new approach and energy. I wanted to change the mindset from the beginning. That’s why we chose these 14 warriors. For sure there will be some bad and good days, ups and downs. These things are normal. The season is very long. I wanted a team that never gave up. We will fight on the court till the last second, we will jump for every ball, and we will not go down if something goes wrong. We want to stay focused on our goals till the end of the season. At the end of the season, people will see what we’ve done. That’s why I chose five new foreigners. They are good players with good careers and they had good seasons before. Some of them may have had less success with their club but they had good individual seasons.
We had Derek two years ago and he was the best point guard amongst all EuroCup teams. We have Jonah Mathews who was averaging 11 points in EuroLeague last year. We have Matt Mitchell who was one of the intriguing names on the market this summer. We know what Leyton Hammonds can do. We played against him, I played against him. So, I know how capable he is of creating problems for opposing teams. And of course, we have one of the best big men, the best rebounders from Karsiyaka, Angel Delgado. He is also a national team player.
This is the story that we wanted. Even though the club offered me to go with more foreigners, I wanted to stop at five. Why? Because we have nice, talented domestic players. I like to use all these players. Berk Ugurlu is one of the most experienced and one of the best point guards in the league. He knows how to play and read situations. I think he is one of the best point guards right now for sure. We have Yigit and Ege, two great shooters, and great characters. They want to prove themselves and improve their defense to help the team better. We have Berkan who played very well in Karsiyaka last year. They went to the finals.
We have two kids, Kerem Konan 18 and Samet Yigitoglu 19. These players are not less important. They are for sure two of the biggest, maybe even the biggest prospects of Turkish basketball. Other guys are not too much older too. At practices, more kids join us from junior teams because we have 14-15 players. Our average age is around 22. We have the future. The biggest thing is, I think we can be much better in one month. We will be so much better in December. With these improvements, we will be best in the end.
Q: As you mentioned, you were very active in the domestic player market. We can see that the players who are working with you take a jump in their games and careers. Was this the reason to get them to Besiktas?
A: To be honest, I’m very proud of the fact that now, domestic players come and want to play with me. It is not easy. Everybody knows that I’m not an easy-handled coach. Everybody knows that we are practicing too much. I’m really surprised and have good feelings about everybody wanting to come when I talk to them. When I talked with domestic players two years ago, I was doing everything to convince them to come and play for me. Right now, it is very easy. One conversation, one lunch and then it is done. Also, our GM did a great job in those moments. We chose names that we wanted to be aggressive on. I think this summer, we did a good job on the market.
Q: You already mentioned some names but I have to ask some too. I remember the first Karsiyaka away game in Izmir. Delgado had the highest number of offensive rebounds in one game across all of Europe. Was it the time that you said ‘Okay, at some point I have to get him’?
A: He made a lot of trouble for us even though we prepared for him well. At least we thought that we prepared for him well. He features something different. There are some things in his game that he can still improve. I believe he has the potential to go to the highest level. The best thing about this team and Delgado is, that they are ready to improve and to change themselves for the better. Delgado is one of the best players with his sense of being in the right place at the right time and getting offensive rebounds. I think he was the best rebounder in the league last season. This is something that every team needs. When we watched him, we saw how much he contributed to his team. Okay, when you get rebounds, people will not respect you as much as you get points but we need players who can contribute to our game in this way. This is something that we need.
Q: Jonah Mathews is having a great pre-season. He was a EuroLeague scorer. Was it hard to convince him to come here? I always thought that Matt Mitchell was a EuroLeague player. Do you think the same about him?
A: Absolutely. To be honest, you watch all the players in all the teams in the Turkish League, and all of them are potential player candidates for the EuroLeague. Turkish League is a strong league, the second-best league in Europe. Everybody has respect for some players with good roles and good numbers. And if their team has success, people will respect them more. Teams will chase those players more than others. I think in my team, everybody is a candidate for the highest level. It will depend on only them, how they will treat this season.
Jonah Mathews had some EuroLeague offers on the table before he signed with us. I think in the conversations I had with him, I successfully convinced him to come here for some different reasons. I’m always saying ‘EuroCup is not a bad level’. We can say that it is a great level, especially this year. We have a lot of candidates for the EuroLeague. We have Paris and London and no one is talking about them. But we know that the EuroLeague wants these two cities in the league. There are other great teams too. In this year’s EuroCup, teams are more equal and there are a lot of players who came from the EuroLeague to the EuroCup to have a good role, then return to the EuroLeague with another role. That was the case with Jonah. I think he wanted to show himself with spotlights on him. He wanted to show that he is not just a guy that scores when you pass him. He is a guy who can offer many other things. He can create for others, he can defend. He can contribute in many different ways. He and Matt Mitchell have the quality for another level without a doubt.
“Very interesting how fast the expectations change”
Q: After a very long time, you will play with a deep rotation this year. You can throw almost all the players to the court. How do you feel about that? You haven’t had that chance in Bursa.
A: I think this is the biggest strength of my team this year. We have 11 players in the rotation, and there are three kids (Yagiz Aksu, Ata Ozbek, and Yigit Coban) who are coming to practice with us and develop themselves. They are also practicing well. They are coming from our basketball school. This is the biggest advantage. When you play in strong competitions like EuroCup and Turkish League, play a game every two or three days, you need all the players in rotation. The season is long, injuries are part of our job. We have to be prepared for all these things. Also, if you want to play with 100% energy on both offense and defense, this is important. It is not possible to play big minutes and have quality every three days in both competitions. This is the thing that I’m proud of. Domestic players, foreign players… All of them contribute a lot to the court.
Q: You set the bar very high in Bursa. I think getting Dusan Alimpijevic to Besiktas created the same vibe. Am I wrong?
A: This is very interesting how fast the expectations change. One year, Besiktas is fighting to stay in the league; now, something very successful is being asked. To be honest, I am also very happy about this. Do you know why? Because if you want to be big, you have to think big. Right now, we think big. We want to make this club stable. We don’t even want to talk about these kinds of things (fighting to stay in the league) anymore. This is a big club, a big community with 20 or more million fans. This club doesn’t deserve to worry about these things like staying in the league. We will go to every game to fight till the end, and try to win as much as possible. I said in the beginning, it is not a secret: We want to get to the playoffs in both competitions, even though in EuroCup this year is more difficult than years before because now six teams will advance instead of eight of 10. You saw the names, the clubs in our group. Who knows? Maybe it is better. I’m not a guy who escapes from these tough games.
Q: As you mentioned earlier, even though the club offered you six foreigners, you will start with five foreigners. Should we expect another move during the season?
A: The club made a good gesture from their side like ‘Hey coach, just know this, if you need, you can tell us’. They didn’t push anything, they just wanted to show that they were serious and they wanted to help me. They told me to talk with them if I need a player. But our scrimmage games showed us that we don’t need right now. We are not thinking about this because there are 11 players in the rotation and they are giving their maximum for the team. To be honest, right now I don’t think about one more foreigner.
Q: We have endless arguments regarding the number of foreign players. One day six foreigners, another day five, another day six again… As a great basketball mind, I want to get your opinion. Is there any correct answer?
A: For me, six.
A: To help Turkish players. They become very relaxed in other cases. My work ethic is terrible. I’m not talking about my players right now. I’m very satisfied with the approach of my domestic players. I’m very satisfied with their work ethic and behavior. If I’d known that all clubs would have players like I have right now as far as behavior, approach, work ethic, and taking care of their bodies; then five foreigners would do no problem for sure. But, this is my third season here. Four because I’ve had a half-season too. I’m starting my fourth season here.
I’m talking with my colleagues, I know everybody has the same problem. I’m not saying I have this problem right now but the main thing is, players become very comfortable. Players become very tough to work with. They are like ‘Everything is too much, everything is hard, everything is long, we should rest, why so many kilos in the lifting room, I never lifted like this, who cares about the kilos’. Who cares they came fat to the beginning of the season, who cares? When you have five foreigners, they have seven guaranteed places.
If you ask me, prices went up too much. There are unrealistic prices for domestic players. When you have great players, you have to pay for them. I have no problem with this. I have to pay good players, I’m the first one that wants to pay something good. But there are a lot of fake teams. Why? Only because you are a domestic player, only because there is a rule. I know that a lot of players after reading this can comment on me.
One more time, I have to repeat: If I know that I have domestic players with a good approach, and work ethic like right now with my players, I have no problem. But I saw with my own eyes what was happening. If you go with six foreign players, then domestic players have to fight more for their contracts, for their money, for their season. They will not spend their whole summer in Bodrum or Cesme. Maybe they will come a little bit earlier to work with their physical coaches.
Do you know how it is in Serbia? In Serbia, you have players who are coming off of hard seasons. You have a lot of EuroLeague, NBA, EuroCup players. They are hungry even with these big contracts they have because nothing is guaranteed for them. Why? Because they are foreigners in other countries. So, do you know what they do? They are coming, they spend one week with their family, they spend 10 more days with their family on some vacation, then they come back and start to work. Rest of the summer, they are working, all of them. They are working with physical coaches, they are working with basketball coaches.
If you work a little bit, who forbids you from going out or hanging out with your friends? This is something that I always tell my players, maybe I mentioned to you too in one of our interviews: Only hungry dogs go hunting. I think the main problem is, these players are not hungry enough. They think ‘I’m in Denizli, if I have a problem here then I will pick up my stuff and go to Petkim. After Petkim, I’ll go to Turk Telekom. After Turk Telekom, if I have one good season, I will go to Fener for one year. After Fener, I’ll go to Galatasaray, Besiktas, whatever’. They are circling.
Q: Let’s move to another argument. There were some arguments about naturalized players in the summer like all the summers. Some coaches defend and say ‘You can be only one piece away from success’, some say ‘No, we don’t need any naturalized players’. What is your opinion?
A: I’m not in for naturalizing players. For example, your country has enough good players. Okay, if you are missing only one position, maybe you can make it. But I’m not in favor of giving a lot of passports to foreign players in this country because you are taking something away from these domestic players. Let’s tell the truth. If we talked like that in the question before, then also we have to be honest in the same way about this situation. You have domestic players, you have to work with them and make them better. This is also the coach’s job.
The easiest way is to give someone a passport somehow, then you will have a good player. But we have to do something with these players. We have to invest some knowledge, work, and time and we have to be patient to get something from them. So, I’m not so in about neutralizing players, giving them passports for nothing. This is a country of 84 million people. There are a lot of talented players. We need to change their habits, we need to change their work ethic, and approach. We need to change these as coaches. Right now, I’m going home from my practice fully satisfied because I have no problems. Will we lose sometimes? Of course, we will lose sometimes. But I have a good group of people we will find right away.
Q: The last question is about the Serbian national team. Did you expect this kind of story from them? No Jokic, no Micic, no Kalinic, etc. but they are at the top of the world again. Okay, they lost the final but I don’t care about that. What is important is being there.
A: If someone says to you that he was expecting something like this, he is lying. This is a big success. Don’t forget that we are not Yugoslavia anymore. We are Serbia and we have seven million people. The market is smaller but we still raise those talents in all sports, not just basketball. For a small country like ours, this is an unbelievable success. They got huge respect after the championship from everybody which is a little bit rude. We should support them more. I’m sticking with this opinion of mine: Chemistry and a good atmosphere in the team brings results.
If you have a group of individuals, it is not a team. The team is something different. A team is made of these individuals who put their egos, arrogance, and selfishness aside and come to play for the national team accepting their roles. They support each other. They played aggressively. One of these guys gave his kidney to the country. This was very emotional for us and our country. I’m not sure we will be better with all these names. Maybe one name could help us too much in the future, we will never find out. But hats off to this national team. I know these relationships because our physical coach this year in Besiktas is the physical coach for the Serbian national team.